Hydraulic limitation not declining nitrogen availability causes the age-related photosynthetic decline in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.)

J. E. Drake, L. M. Raetz, S. C. Davis, E. H. Delucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Declining net primary production (NPP) with forest age is often attributed to a corresponding decline in gross primary production (GPP). We tested two hypotheses explaining the decline of GPP in ageing stands (14-115 years old) of Pinus taeda L.: (1) increasing N limitation limits photosynthetic capacity and thus decreases GPP with increasing age; and (2) hydraulic limitations increasingly induce stomatal closure, reducing GPP with increasing age. We tested these hypotheses using measurements of foliar nitrogen, photosynthesis, sap-flow and dendroclimatological techniques. Hypothesis (1) was not supported; foliar N retranslocation did not increase and declines were not observed in foliar N, leaf area per tree or photosynthetic capacity. Hypothesis (2) was supported; declines were observed in light-saturated photosynthesis, leaf- and canopy-level stomatal conductance, concentration of CO2 inside leaf air-spaces (corroborated by an increase in wood δ13C) and specific leaf area (SLA), while stomatal limitation and the ratio of sapwood area (SA) to leaf area increased. The sensitivity of radial growth to inter-annual variation in temperature and drought decreased with age, suggesting that tree water use becomes increasingly conservative with age. We conclude that hydraulic limitation increasingly limits the photosynthetic rates of ageing loblolly pine trees, possibly explaining the observed reduction of NPP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1756-1766
Number of pages11
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010



  • A:ci
  • Granier
  • Hydraulic limitation hypothesis
  • Sap-flow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science

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